As a little boy I was more ambitious than Caesar himself. I wanted to become a constable. And as timpassed my interests changed. It used to be a newspaper boy for sometime, then my whims shifted to other fields. I wanted to be a pilot, a businessman, a film director. When there was a change of climate, a writer. But as it always happens with me I clash with the interests of society. Society it seems, respects those who deal with nuts and bolts or with stethoscopes. Or those with guns and tanks.

While I was learning to read and write, the teachers paid more attention to sciences. I was fine with my first lessons on the subject. ‘The Germination of the Seed’. I came to know of Isaac Newton. Of Archimedes. Of Pascal. Of C. V. Raman. It was all right until they kept asking me the date of birth of Isaac Newton and what fell on his head. As I was ascending the steps of my academic credentials I slowly began to discover the ugly face of Science. Common Salt was not common salt. It was Sodium Chloride. It began there. Everything was given a name in order to tease my mental capabilities.

Biology was a strange subject. The lab in my school used to have guinea pigs, tortoises, fish, frogs and what not. The teacher must have thought she was pleasing me when she gave me the errand of bringing a hydrilla to the class. The errand took me to a nearby stream. The temperature of the stream had to be measured and to measure temperature you need a thermometre. I had one. And a classmate who seemed to be in good spirits that morning dipped his hand holding the thermometre into the stream. After few minutes the boy’s enthusiasm had drowned. His smile was vague and his face wore a look of guilt. The fellow lost the thing. Well, I thought the thermometre that day was a small thing to sacrifice in the pursuit of knowledge.

I was taught in the class so many things I didn’t want to know. They told me that a cockroach had white blood and a frog had sebaceous glands. I always wonder why must a fifteen-year-old boy bother whether the blood of a cockroach was white or green. Whether a frog has sebaceous glands or no sebaceous glands

There were enough microscopes to keep the whole class busy. We used to be given slides to be identified. This business is rather tough. You wouldn’t know whether what you are seeing is another of those insects with a long and tongue-twistinbrain-teasing name or the map of a faraway land.

The physics lab like most labs was a dingy room housed with many apparatus. During experiments, the common balance would never settle. To measure the width of a piece of string never excited me. Nor did the experiments with the prism or the concave-convex mirrors. There was so much to learn about electricity. Voltmetres, Ammetres and more. We had to make a circuit and on switching it on a bulb had to glow or a needle had to move. In none of my experiments did the bulb glow or the needle move. The whole set-up looked like a time bomb that would blow up any time. All that I benefitted from going to that lab was the acquisition of a prism and a bar magnet. The latter I lost and the former I use as a paperweight
I took tuition in Mathematics. Each problem in Trigonometry and Algebra insulted me, harassed my peace of mind and pinched my ego. For all tests I had learnt by-heart the problems and used to feel cheated when there was slight twist to the problem I had learnt the night before.

After my tenth class board exams, I was at a juncture of choices. I was asked to choose. Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology. These spinsters of a bad-blooded family stood in a row as if to woo me. I turned my back on their faces. I turned to a new world. Civics, Economics and Commerce.Very friendly and understanding. All they ask you in Civics is ‘Who was the first President of India?When are you allowed to vote?‘ In Economics I came to know that answers are measured not by matter but by inches. In Commerce all you had to do was add, subtract, divide and multiply. After leaving sciences I looked better and felt better. My friend noticed that I put on weight.
Those labs with the pungent smell, caged birds and animals, with tuning forks were a passage. I had enough of them. All I experienced was confusion when learning and embarrassment when questioned. I probably wasted my time my energy ... and that thermometre.

Appeared in “The Collegian” Nizam College, Hyderabad, India. 1989 as “Deschooling” by K.A.Xavier. B.Com, II Year

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